Wednesday, May 17, 2006
For Whom the Bell Tapped?
Curiously, six days after Gannett’s USA Today published their exclusive report on the collection of phone call records by the National Security Agency, no one in the metropolitan Cincinnati media has thought to ask our local phone company, Cincinnati Bell, if they had received any governmental request for telephone records.
According to Cincinnati Bell’s online Code of Conduct:
No employee of Cincinnati Bell…shall engage in, cause, or permit any unauthorized intrusion into the secrecy or privacy of communications, or furnish to anyone any advice, assistance, or equipment for use in connection with any eavesdropping or the interception of telephone or data communications…unless such conduct is specifically approved in advance by a Company official legally authorized to do so. If a law enforcement authority, governmental official, or anyone else asks for information [sic] which must be kept private because of the law or Company regulations, immediately refer their request through proper channels to the Office of the General Counsel.
Saturday, I left a message concerning Cincinnati Bell and the NSA with the Metro editor of the Cincinnati Enquirer.
As of this posting, that Gannett-owned daily’s editor has not returned my call.
I also talked with representatives of two of the more reputable TV newsrooms.
Both newsrooms initially told me they had not aired a local follow to the national NSA story.
I called Cincinnati Bell.
After 20 minutes of waiting and after having been transferred to several representatives, I found myself speaking to a young woman who identified herself as Tiffany.
I asked Tiffany if Cincinnati Bell had received any request from the NSA similar to those outlined in last Thursday’s USA Today story and if any local media had asked the company questions similar to mine
Tiffany asked if I could hold and disappeared for 12 minutes.
Returning Tiffany said, without preamble, “Cincinnati Bell does not divulge information relating to National Security and strictly adheres to Federal, State and Local laws in order to insure customer privacy”.
I, again, asked Tiffany is she was aware of any local media asking the question I had just raised.
Tiffany said, “No, I’m not aware of any.”
Thanking her, I hung up and redialed one of the local TV newsrooms.
The young woman I spoke to this time insisted that her station had asked Cincinnati Bell about the NSA and that the story was on their website.
I asked if she recalled if Cincinnati Bell’s statement and if it was the same “does not divulge” response I’d just been given.
She said that it was.
Repeated searches, within and without the site, failed to locate the alleged local TV report.
Internet search engine attempts conducted since last Friday have not uncovered any reports about possible Cincinnati Bell involvement with the NSA although those same Internet searches have curiously confirmed my own personal knowledge that Cincinnati Bell from 1972 to 1984 set more than 1, 200 wiretaps “at the request of their supervisors at the Telco and the local police” on “past and present members of Congress, federal judges, scores of the city's most prominent politicians, business executives, lawyers and media personalities” even tapping “the hotel room where then-President Gerald Ford stayed during two visits to Cincinnati, a tale substantially corroborated by the hotel's retired security chief.”
While I realize that most employees of local news operations are very young and likely only partially aware of regional history, surely some wizened old newsroom curmudgeon has a memory of the Bell’s past indiscretion and the importance of a present day local follow-up question.
Surely some young hotshot in the local paper owned by the company that also owns USA Today must realize that this kind of local follow-up question might be appreciated by corporate and those embattled USA Today investigative reporters.
Well not yet, anyway.
For your information, Cincinnati Bell started out three years before the invention of the telephone as the City and Suburban Telegraph Company in 1873.
It was one of two old Bell system companies to be independently owned and survived the Bell break-up, escaping inclusion in a regional operating company like Bell South.
While small, Cincinnati Bell now offers its 2 million regional customers full dial-up and ASDL internet services and its own fully owned wireless division all operating roughly within the same 25 mile radius around Cincinnati that it first established in 1878.
Following the completion of Bell South’s purchase by AT&T, Cincinnati Bell will be the only surviving Bell to still use the original encircled Bell logo.
NOTE-A Josh Marshall reader has an enlightening 1st person thumbnail sketch of certain Telco employees.
Image: Google, BellSystemMemorial.com